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Why Anna Karenina has my Heart

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is one of the most controversial classics of all time. It is considered as one of the toughest reads because believe me, it requires all your time and effort. With a whopping 1000 pages and eight parts, Anna Karenina talks about how a sophisticated young woman decides to follow her passion and dreams without a care in the world. It is a tale of love, marriage, duty, passion, adultery, faith, selfishness, and happiness. As they say, Tolstoy wrote this book inviting us to watch and not judge.

The first time I read Anna Karenina was during my college days. There was a book fair conducted near my home and I remember my Grandma giving me a thousand rupees to splurge on books. 1000 rupees back in those days was a pretty big deal. My Mom helped me choose some amazing books including Anna Karenina.

Today as I write this post, I ask Mom what she remembers about Anna. She fondly recalls Anna’s strong personality. “Anna is considered to be too beautiful to be true”, she says. “I remember visiting a Russian theatre as part of my M.A. Literature class and boy was I blown away! It is considered a classic for a reason.”

The famous opening line:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna is married off at the age of eighteen to the considerably older (twenty years!) Alexei Karenin. She appears to be a vivacious, carefree young woman but is in a loveless marriage. She dutifully produced a son for him and settled into a life of social events and extravagance. There is no burning passion between them and she often feels that he is like a ‘machine‘. Her only comfort is her son Seryozha.

”They say he’s a religious, moral, honest, intelligent man; but they don’t see what I’ve seen. They don’t know how he has been stifling my life for eight years, stifling everything that was alive in me, but he never once even thought that I was a living woman who needed love.

The fateful meeting with Count Alexei Vronsky, a military man changes her life. Her infatuation with Vronsky deepens and intensifies as the two falls in love. She discovers what she was missing all her life – love coupled with passion.

“I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”

To an outsider, Anna Karenina is about a woman’s infidelity as she carries out an adulterous affair. But there is so much more to it.

Anna is bound by honor and duty to her husband and she is also guilty of having an affair with Vronsky. However, she is sure of her feelings for the latter and in effect, her chance for love and life. She is torn between wronging her husband, of the consequences of her action on her loving son and the love she has for Vronsky. Thus, she refuses the divorce from her husband and accepts to be humiliated and ridiculed by society as an ‘immoral‘ woman.

“Sometimes she did not know what she feared, what she desired: whether she feared or desired what had been or what would be, and precisely what she desired, she did not know.”

Why Anna Karenina has my Heart

What I love most about Anna Karenina is Tolstoy’s portrayal of her. Anna Karenina was destructive. She was jealous, paranoid, vengeful, happy and unhappy. Yet, you cannot fully condemn her because she is very much human. She chose what she thought was happiness (irrespective of how things ended which is outright tragic. Oh no, Tolstoy!) and I think, we all feel and act that way at some point in life.

Anna Karenina is not of her time. She lived in the 1870’s society that gave women no rights and women were forced to behave as such. Because we live in a world where women have much more freedom, it doesn’t mean that we can translate those feelings to women of different ages or cultures. She does many questionable things but reacted the best within her circumstances.

But ultimately, all she did was sacrifice everything to chase a dream.

“The dream ate her.

Anna Karenina is one of my absolute favorite books for its heartbreaking plot twists, brilliant vocabulary, and poetic style. Tolstoy’s writing is beyond the times with elements of a whirlwind affair, infidelity, societal pressure, a nasty divorce, a man questioning his spirituality, and a woman questioning her mental state. Though the passion and complexity of relationships are much better portrayed in the book, for a change, I really loved the Anna Karenina (2012) movie too. I highly recommend you watching it.

P.S: There is another parallel storyline (Levin and Kitty) to the book which I have not covered here.

Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is a beautiful classic for a reason

That’s all for now!
Have you read Anna Karenina? Do you like or loathe Anna for the choices she made? Let me know.
I hope you’ll drop by tomorrow too.

If you ant to buy this beautiful Penguin cloth-bound edition of the book, here it is!

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My theme for the A to Z Challenge this year is ‘Celebrating the Bibliophile in me’, where I would share the books, authors and fictional characters that I love, loathe and tolerate.
Ah, there could be more!
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